WITH THE exception of the back row, where no-one was permitted to sit, the auditorium at the Tel Aviv Cinematheque was packed to capacity last Friday morning, with the overflow audience lining the walls and sitting on the stairs. They hadn't come for the usual movie premiere reasons. This wasn't even a feature. It was a documentary. Most of the people present were directly or indirectly connected with USAID which had helped to fund the production, or with the Parents Circle and the Forum of Israeli and Palestinian Bereaved Parents, who had conceived and inspired the production; or with the movement for Reconciliation and Peace. The seats in the back were reserved for the Palestinians who were more than an hour late in arriving. They all had permits and the permits had been arranged well in advance, but the bus was detained at the check point and it took time for the matter to be sorted out. The event, like many others involving similar groups of people, was proof that coexistence is possible when there is a mutual realization that violence serves no purpose and that solutions are possible when people focus on their commonalities rather than on what divides them. The documentary "The Making ofâ€¦" is about how the series "Good Intentions," a Reshet production screened on Channel Two came about. Episodes of "Good Intentions," starring Orna Pitussi and Clara Khoury as Tamar Rosen from Givatayim and Amal Fauzi from Ramallah, who get together on a cooking show ostensibly to exchange recipes, focus on how their lives and those of their families, friends and acquaintances are affected. Produced and directed by Uri Barabash and Chayim Sharir and scripted by Ronit Weiss Berkowitz, the sensitive production moves out of the kitchen, into the political arena and into people's lives. Fauzi has a brother who was shot and disabled for life by an Israeli. Rosen has a soldier son who almost loses his life in a battle with Palestinian terrorists - and yet the two women get past their pain and the natural resentments that accompany hostilities of this kind, to care for each other and to feel for each other. That too is the story of Robi Damelin, formerly of South Africa, whose son David was killed by a Palestinian sniper while guarding an army checkpoint in March, 2002. The irony was that David was a peace activist who had always sought dialogue with the Palestinians. When she was told of his death, his mother's first words were: "Do not take revenge in the name of my son." Later, after the shiva, she wrote a letter to the family of the sniper. Ali Abu Awwad, a former member of Fatah and an activist in the Palestinian resistance movement, spent four years in an Israeli prison. During the second intifada, he was shot in the leg by an Israeli settler and went to Saudi Arabia for medical treatment. While he was there, he received the news that his brother had been shot and killed by an Israeli soldier at the checkpoint near the entrance to their village. The first inclination was to seek revenge, he admitted, but he realized that nothing he could do would bring back his brother, so he and his family began to think that violence was not a solution and they joined the Forum of Bereaved Families. Now, together with Damelin, he tours the world preaching non-violence and reconciliation to audiences of many ethnic and religious backgrounds. Their next stop is South Africa where they will tell people that it is better to live with the pain of peace than the agony of war. A Palestinian in one of the episodes in the series calculates that he has spent 12 years of his life waiting at checkpoints. "The Making of â€¦" can be seen tonight, Wednesday at 10.45 p.m. on Channel Two.
ON THE SUBJECT of reconciliation, an annual Sulha brings together Israelis and Palestinians and people from other conflict areas in the world who are seeking a path away from violence. This year's Sulha, which began on August 26 and will conclude on August 28, is taking place at the Latrun Monastery and includes some 500 Palestinians who have come from Hebron, Jericho, Ramallah and Tulkarem to join with hundreds of Israelis in song, dance, meditation and discussion. And of course, they will break bread together. Tomorrow, Thursday, Elana Rozenman and Ibtisam Mahamid from Furedis will conduct a women's only workshop in the Latrun Monastery from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m., with the focus on leaving the conflict and moving towards trust and peace.
OPPOSITION LEADER Binyamin Netanyahu is completing a book based on his term as Finance Minister. The book, which will be published under the title "The Israeli Tiger," will detail the economic policies that Netanyahu introduced and will also refer to additional economic policies that he plans to introduce if and when Likud is returned to power.
ACCORDING TO various media reports, Defense Minister and Labor Party chairman Ehud Barak is selling his 400 sq.m. luxury apartment on the 31st floor of the prestigious Akirov Towers in north Tel Aviv's swanky Pinkas Street for $11 million because a Labor Party chairman who is running for the role of prime minister should not live in such affluence. It wouldn't matter now if Barak moved into a hut with an outdoor toilet. The public would still know that he had well over $11 million stashed in investments. His wife Nili Priel has already sacrificed her Taurus business venture which was deemed harmful to his ambitions - but the fact that it existed isn't going to go away. Then again, the prime minister's residence is more modest than Barak's, and perhaps he anticipates that this is where he will live next. If the polls are any guideline: no such luck.
LESS THAN a month after her death, June Walker's Hadassah family gathered at the beginning of this week at Hadassah College in Jerusalem to tell her daughters Ellen Walker and Julie Richman, and three of her six grandchildren, Rebecca Fish and Stacey and Kimberly Richman how much they loved and missed her. Walker, who was the 23rd National President of Hadassah, the Women's Zionist Organization of America, had previously been its treasurer, and at the time of her death had been chair of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. Although she had battled aggressive and pain-inflicting cancer for seven years, she refused to allow it to influence her commitment to those things that she held dear, nor did it succeed in slowing her down.
Though most of her family had been to Israel at least once, for her daughter Ellen Walker this was a first visit and a first real encounter with all the projects that her mother had been involved in building and developing, and as much as the visit was emotional for her sister, daughter and nieces who had all been to Israel before, it was doubly meaningful to her and she savored every moment and every experience.
Presiding over the memorial ceremony in the well-filled auditorium of Hadassah College was Hadassah National Board member Miki Shulman, who is currently leading a Hadassah mission to Israel. Shulman acknowledged the presence of Zalman Shoval, former Israel ambassador to the US, and MK Colette Avital, former Israel Consul General in New York, who had each met Walker on numerous occasions. For many of those present, even though they knew of her illness, Walker's death had come as a shock because she had defied the grim reaper so many times that it seemed as if this feisty woman would continue doing so forever. Prof. Shlomo Mor Yosef, director general of the Hadassah Medical Organization, who recalled having many budgetary arguments with Walker, said that during the second intifada she had called him at 2 a.m. New Jersey time to tell him that he could have anything he needed without taking budgetary considerations into account. Prof. Nava Ben Zvi, president of Hadassah College, called Walker "the personification of dedication and determination," and said that she had entered the 21st century before it even started. "She was contagious and we were infected."
"She taught me that life was a rollercoaster and that I had better buckle up," said her first born granddaughter Rebecca Fish as she shared some of the many madcap adventures she had experienced with her grandmother.
Shaul Elbaz, director of the Meir Shefayah Youth Village which contains the June Walker Education Building, is a poet in his soul and had wanted to write a poem in her memory. His bond with her was so strong that he thought the words would flow out of the keyboard on their own. Instead, tears flowed out of his eyes onto the keyboard.
UNDERCOVER NEWS, an Australian website that deals with global news about showbiz and the arts, quotes Israel Radio's Benny Dudkevitch on the upcoming one-show visit to Israel by former Beatle Paul McCartney. What's the connection between Dudkevitch and Australia? Aside from anything else, he keeps tabs on developments in the sphere of pop music all over the world. And his wife Margot, a former military reporter for The Jerusalem Post, hails from Australia. She currently works for Infolive.TV, whose material is picked up by many websites from around the globe including down under.
THE ARISON Foundation, established by the late Ted Arison and further developed by his daughter Shari Arison and his grandson Jason Arison, supports a wide range of causes, not the least of which is aliya. Nefesh B'Nefesh, the organization which most actively not only encourages but implements aliya these days, is one of the beneficiaries of the Arison Foundation's largesse. In recognition of what the foundation has done to help Nefesh B'Nefesh realize its goals, two of the Nefesh B'Nefesh founders, Rabbi Yehoshua Fass who currently serves as the organization's director-general, and Tony Gelbart who serves as its chairman, last week presented Arison with a citation at a welcoming ceremony for 290 new immigrants who came from the US and England. Fass said that the Arison Foundation was the first to give Nefesh B'Nefesh "the fuel" with which to fly new immigrants from the US to Israel.
On Friday, September 5, Arison will be directing her attention to the more challenged sectors of Israeli society. Together with Danny Dankner, chairman of the Board of Directors of Bank Hapoalim of which she is the chief shareholder, and Zvi Ziv, General Manager, she opens up Bank Hapoalim headquarters in Tel Aviv's Yehuda Halevi Street for an art exhibit and sale of works by children who are cared for by a variety of non-profit organizations throughout the country. Bank Hapoalim hosts an annual exhibition and sale of works by leading Israeli artists with proceeds going to a number of philanthropic causes, but this time the idea is to make every child who has donated a work of art feel that he or she, regardless of his or her own special needs, can make a contribution to society.
FOUNDERS, MEMBERS and supporters of the Washington Committee for Soviet Jewry (WCSJ) gathered last week in both Washington and Jerusalem to commemorate the 40th anniversary of its founding. The WCSJ was an activist, unaffiliated, grass-roots organization that in 1968 joined the ranks of a handful of similar committees across America and the Western World. Those in America eventually created the Union of Councils, whose watchword was to listen to the advice of the establishment, but not necessarily to follow its directives. The WCSJ, in similar vein to the other like-minded committees was, for its time, a unique blend of activism and non-violence. It had the special advantage of being in the nation's capital and thus being able to apply unique pressure on the Soviet Embassy there. The WCSJ had responded to the call of Soviet Jews themselves, who, after the Six Day War, were applying for exit permits and being "refused." They welcomed active foreign support for their cause as helping it by giving it international visibility, and not as jeopardizing them. Working together with supporters from the western world, the Jews of the Soviet Union would no longer be "The Jews of Silence."
The WCSJ undertook a vast series of campaigns, including demonstrations, letters and phone calls to Soviet Refuseniks, twinning of bar and bat mitzvahs, adopting a prisoner, phone calls to Soviet Embassy offices to inquire about the plight of Soviet Jews, synagogue lawn signs with slogans such "Free Soviet Jews," and travel missions to Jews in the USSR. But the most resounding of the protests became the silent vigil, every day at noon for 15 minutes, opposite the Soviet Embassy, then conveniently located on 16th Street. This vigil attracted ordinary Jews on weekdays, Christians especially on the Sabbath and Jewish Holidays, as well as religious and political dignitaries of different faiths. All this and more combined with official US policy against the "Evil Empire" helped to open the gates and eventually bring down the Iron Curtain.
The commemorative gathering in Jerusalem was held at the home of Aaron Braunstein, one of the WCSJ's original founders in 1968. Attending were Larry and Bev Lewin, also founders, Ruth Newman, the mainstay of the Committee's operations from 1971, Joe Hochstein, retired editor of the Jewish Week of Washington and Enid and Stewart Wurtman, of the supporting Union of Councils. A special guest was Yosef Begun, a former Moscow Hebrew teacher and former Prisoner of Zion, who remains active to this day in Jewish dialogue between Russia and Israel. Yosef Begun's recent documentary about his return to the locations of his ordeals was shown at the gathering.
On the same day, those WCSJ members meeting in Washington, D.C. included the other original founders Moshe Brodetzky, Haim Solomon and Walter Golman and several dozen old-time members and supporters. All came together with the objective of recording the oral history and documentation of the WCSJ and its activities.
MEXICAN AMBASSADOR Federico Salas hosted a cocktail reception at his residence in Herzliya Pituah in honor of celebrated Mexican artist Abraham Cruz Villegas, who is in Israel under the auspices of Art TLV 08. Among the guests were Gili, Doshy and Tommy Leitersdorf, Adi and Doron Sabag, Tovit and Prof. Shlomo Melamed, Uzi Zucker, Bracha and Roi Ben-Yemay, Art TLV founders,Iris Sommer, from the Sommer Gallery, Rivka Saker, Shifra Interator, photographer Yanay Yehiel, designer Ronen Levin, along with artists Yohay Matos and Hadas Keidar, Dalya Levine, curator of the Herzliya Museum of Art, Art TLV curators Itay Mautner and Michal Halfmann, art and culture journalists and people who simply appreciate art. Needless to say, the small talk was all about art and artists.
AS PART of the Polish Year in Israel, Polish Ambassador to Israel Agnieszka Magdziak Miszewska and Israel Ambassador to Poland David Peleg will co-host the gala premiere on September 6 at ZOA House in Tel Aviv, of the musical "The Magician of Lublin," based on the novel by Polish-born Nobel Prize laureate Isaac Bashevis Singer. The producers of the Polish production, which won acclaim in Warsaw, Krakow and several European cities, came to Israel to work out a cooperative venture with the Yiddishpiel ensemble. Famed Polish director and choreographer Jan Szurmiej has been working with the Yiddishpiel players. The play will be performed in Yiddish with simultaneous translations into Hebrew and Russian. Yiddishpiel premieres seem to come after the show has had several runs on the boards and this time is no exception. Anyone not invited to the premiere can get little brinkmanship by seeing the production any evening from Sunday, August 31 to Thursday, September 4. All but the last begin at 8 p.m. The Thursday show is at 5 p.m.
SUPERMODEL Esti Ginzberg was walking through a mall when she was stopped by a group of young men with a camera. For a moment she thought that they wanted to be photographed with her or perhaps wanted her autograph. But no, they wondered if she could take a picture of them. They didn't have a clue who she was.
FOLLOWING THE mass exodus of diplomats who had completed their tours of duty in Israel, members of the international community will have to familiarize themselves with new names and faces. Ten new ambassadors will present their credentials to President Shimon Peres in September. Presentations are made in accordance with the chronological order in which the envoys arrived in Israel to take up their positions as heads of their respective missions. The first five ambassadors will present their credentials on September 2. They will comprise Zolan Szentgyorgi, Hungary; Tasos Tzionis, Cyprus; Alvaro Iranzo Guttieraz, Spain; Jorge Ricardo Pitzeys Uriguen, Guatemala; and Liselotte Kjaesgaard, Denmark. The second group of five who will present their credentials on September 17 will probably excite more media attention as it includes James Cunningham and Yasser Rada, the ambassadors of the US and Egypt respectively, along with Benedicte de Frankinet ep. Hasday, Belgium; Luigi Mattiolo, Italy; and Park Won-Sup, Korea. A third group that will follow soon after will inter alia include the new ambassadors of India and Japan.
ENVIRONMENTALISTS LOOKING for a cause just before the kids go back to school can have a fun day in Ashkelon, today, Wednesday, between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. when Greenpeace will be holding a demonstration against the proposed coal processing factory. Greenpeace intends to make a short film on the site of the demonstration with celebrities such as Avi Kushnir, Avri Gilad, Maya Dagan, Alon Neuman, Alma Dak, Riki Blich, Eli Finish and Moshe Ivgi.
ANYONE WHO has a well-thumbed copy of "The Wonders of the Wonder Pot," by Sybil Kaufman, "Israeli Cooking on a Budget" by Sybil Zimmerman or "Kosher Kettle: International Adventures in Kosher Cooking" by Sybil Kaplan will have the chance to meet the author - yes, they're all one and the same - as of next week when Sybil Kaplan and her husband come on aliya. Kaplan lived in Israel more than 30 years ago, then returned to the US where her two daughters were born. She was forever planning to return to Israel to live and is finally realizing the dream.